Elaine Chamberlain, from Sheffield, believed she was going to marry one of the men and had purchased a wedding dress and marital rings in the run-up to her death, aged 76.
Her son, Richard Chamberlain said the scammers “ruined” his mum’s life and “stole her dignity” by fleecing her of her finances and destroying her personal relationships.
He said: “These people were in her head. They knew what they were doing, they made her feel special, they made her feel wanted and good about herself. It didn’t matter what anyone said to her.”
Richard said his mum, who had arthritis, started “deteriorating” following the death of her partner of 31 years, Danny, in 2013.
He added: “When he died mum was lost. He was the love of her life.”
The first sign of trouble came in 2019 when Elaine said she had met a man online but became “vague” when asked about him, Richard said.
He added: “I knew scammers were about so I said to her, ‘You’re sending him money are you?’ and she said that she wasn’t.”
Elaine, a former dinner lady, was led to believe the person she was talking to was a white man in his 60s, working abroad as a diver on a ship.
However, he carried out online research and established the image being shown to Elaine had been taken from a Welsh man’s Facebook profile.
His worries were confirmed a short time later when Elaine, a grandmother-of-one, answered her phone on loud speaker and Richard heard a young man’s voice on the other end.
He said: “You could tell from the voice that it wasn’t the man in the picture. I told mum, ‘You’re being scammed’, but she would just say, ‘No, I’m not, no, I’m not’.”
Richard believes Elaine became aware the man she was talking to was not who was in the picture and instead was a young black man.
However, he said it “did not matter to her”.
In early 2020, the Post Office where Elaine deposited the cash contacted South Yorkshire Police about unusual activity from her account and officers went to see her.
According to Richard, they told her that what she was doing wrong and advised her to stop, while he notified social services and his mum’s bank.
However, she got round the obstacles he had set by visiting money exchange centres instead of Post Offices and transferred the money that way, he said.
Richard, after finding out what was happening, added: “I said, ‘what the hell are you doing mum?’ and she said, ‘it’s to help his sick son’. I told her it had to stop.”
Within weeks Richard had found receipts showing his mum had been asked to send money to UK addresses in Leeds and London.
He claims to have told police and urged them to investigate, but says he was told his mum had chosen to send the money, so there was nothing they could do.
Richard added: “The whole situation with my mum was having an effect on my relationships. I’d hit rock bottom with it. I was doing everything I could to stop what was happening but it felt like I was just banging my head against a brick wall.”
Richard tried to get things under control by taking hold of her financial affairs, however, he went on holiday and returned to find she had reversed everything.
He said: “By that point my mum was brainwashed.”
Richard said he had to remove himself from the situation for mental health reasons and that he didn’t speak to his mum for a few months.
When they got back in touch at the end of 2020, he said: “Mum was in really poor health and the house was in a terrible state. All she was interested in was this man. She was constantly online talking to him.
“I was looking at my mum and it was like looking at a blank page. All these people had to do was click their fingers and she would do anything.”
He added: “I saw her account and there was another £5,000 missing but she denied still talking to him. It hurt to be constantly lied to.”
Richard said he went to see his mum days before she died in May this year and that she looked in terrible health.
He added: “She didn’t have a tea or coffee in three hours and she’d normally have one every 20 minutes. I could tell she wasn’t taking her tablets or drinking and said that I would get in touch with the doctor.”
Just two days later Richard received news that his mum had been rushed to hospital with cellulitis, and within hours that she had died from multiple organ failure.
He said: “We went to the hospital to see her and when we walked in her phone was ringing on FaceTime. I answered and it was a black man in his 30s asking for Elaine, I said ‘she’s dead, you killed her’, and put the phone down.”
Richard then discovered his mum died with only £120 to her name.
And he later found a wedding dress and two rings in her bedroom. She had sent pictures of herself wearing the dress to the scammers.
Richard said: “I think my mum knew that the game was up and gave in. She instigated her own death in my opinion.”
He added: “I want to speak out about what happened to my mum to try and prevent the same thing from happening to anyone else.
“These scammers are so horrible and nasty, they ruin people’s lives, they ruined my mum’s life.”